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date: 10 July 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter focuses on the neuroscience of compassion and related social emotions such as empathy, empathic concern, or empathic distress. First, we review neuroscientific literature on empathy and relate empathy to similar social emotions. We then turn to neuroscientific research on caregiving and social connection before describing cross-sectional studies on the neural signatures of compassion. To investigate whether training of compassion can change neural functions, the neural “fingerprints” of compassion expertise were studied in both expert and inexperienced meditators. The latter included the comparison between functional plasticity induced by empathy for suffering as opposed to compassion training. These studies show that compassion training changes neural functions, and that the neural substrates related to empathy for suffering differ experientially as well as neuronally. This is in line with the observation of distinct behavioral patterns related to feelings of empathic distress and compassion, described towards the end of the chapter.

Keywords: Empathy, compassion, care, social connection, reward, neural substrates, empathy-for-suffering, prosocial behavior

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